When Roddie Watson radioed in a few weeks ago that he had found a female cheetah with two cubs just north of the Sand River, nobody took him seriously. Maybe the rangers thought they hadn’t heard correctly or that he had made a mistake. After all, he was on Sasekile Ingwe clearing, near the territory of the Ximpalapala female leopard and her two remaining cubs, so a Freudian slip was most certainly what had happened, and it was the leopards that he had in fact found. No cheetah cubs had been seen on Londolozi in around 5 years.
After what seemed like an eternity of radio silence, Roddie, now slightly perplexed, radioed in again, “Uh… Stations…did anyone copy my last update?”.
After initial disbelief, it became clear that Roddie had in fact come across a female cheetah with her youngsters, but everyone else was operating in the furthest corners of the reserve, so it was only Jess Boon who was able to move in to confirm this wonderful discovery.
Reports had been filtering in over the previous few weeks that there was a female cheetah with cubs to the east of Londolozi, but this was the first time anyone on our side had seen her.
Sadly, initial reports seem to indicate that she originally had four cubs, so two must have been lost somewhere in the wilderness, whether to hyenas, lions or leopards, it remains unclear.
What is incredibly exciting for us is that the female and her two cubs (which we estimate to be around 8 months old) seem to have settled in the same area that until now has been solely occupied by the single male cheetah. The south-western grasslands, inhabited by white rhinos and large herds of buffalo, have a lower density of other large predators than some other parts of Londolozi, and as such provide a far safer environment for cheetahs, especially a mother with young cubs, as cheetahs are at the bottom of the large predator hierarchy; the whipping boys of the big cats.
So far, interactions between the two adult cheetahs has been hostile on the part of the female, as the male is most likely a danger to the cubs He is unlikely to be their father, and therefore has no vested interest in their survival. He seems to have learnt his lesson though, as the last two times I have witnessed him approaching the female, he has decided against it at the last minute and gone on his own way.
Ideally, these four magnificent cats will remain in the area for a long time to come.
Who knows, when and if the young cubs are old enough to disperse, the resident male cheetah may mate with the female and new cheetah cubs, born on Londolozi, could be seen for the first time in many years…
Written and Photographed by James Tyrrell